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Writing the Common Application essay can be a daunting task for high school students. However, with the right approach and guidance, you can craft an essay that stands out and effectively showcases your unique qualities and experiences.

This blog post aims to provide you with valuable insights and tips to help you craft a successful Common Application Essay that will captivate the admissions officers and showcase your unique qualities.

So, let’s dive in and explore what makes a Common Application essay stand out!

1. What Admissions Officers Look For

Before we delve into the tips for writing an exceptional Common Application Essay, let’s understand what admissions officers seek in these essays. Admissions officers want to see your personal growth and transformation through experiences. They are interested in understanding how you’ve evolved as an individual and what lessons you’ve learned along the way. The Common App essay is a personal narrative that should highlight your development.

2. Be Personal

Unlike in academic essays, this is not the occasion to showcase your knowledge of facts and figures. Admissions officers want to get to know you as a person, so make sure your essay reflects personal aspects of your life. Avoid writing in a formal tone; instead, be yourself and let your unique voice shine through!

3. Focus on Growth, Not Accomplishments

Remember that the Common App essay is not an opportunity to list your accomplishments and accolades. Those go in the Activities and Additional Information sections of your application. Instead, share your observations, reactions, and insights about the experiences that have shaped you. Admissions officers want to see introspection and self-awareness, not just a narrated list of achievements.

4. Show, Don’t Tell

When writing your Common App essay, aim to tell a story with cinematic sensory details. Take your readers on a journey by describing the setting, the time of day, the people involved, and the actions taking place. Feel free to incorporate dialogue and use real or fictional names. These details help anchor your reader in the story and make it more engaging.

5. Be Specific about Time

To provide context and structure to your essay, include specific moments or periods of time. Mention the grade you were in, your age at the time of the events, and the timeline between significant moments. This helps the reader understand the progression and impact of your experiences. Timestamps provide clarity and make your story more relatable.

6. Embrace Creativity (But It’s Not Required)

The Common Application Essay allows for creative expression, giving you the freedom to explore different writing styles and formats. You can take risks, be innovative, and infuse your essay with your artistic flair. However, remember that creativity is not a requirement. It’s more important to stay true to your own voice and write authentically. Don’t feel pressured to be creative if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

7. Structure Your Story for Impact

If you’re writing about a challenging or painful experience, consider using the “Triumph Sandwich” structure: start your essay with a positive introduction, delve into the difficult part in the middle, and conclude with the lesson learned or the positive change that occurred. This structure helps balance the emotional impact on the reader and leaves them with a hopeful and inspiring message.

8. Write in Your Own Voice

Your Common App essay should sound like you. Avoid trying to sound overly mature or sophisticated in your writing. Admissions officers want to hear your authentic voice and get a sense of who you are as an individual. Read your essay out loud or record yourself speaking to ensure it sounds natural.

9. Include Content Unavailable Elsewhere in the Application

While it’s acceptable to mention a particular experience in a club that you’ve also discussed in the activity essay, avoid duplicating the same information. Admissions readers expect to find something new about applicants – something they can’t find anywhere else in the application – when they read personal statements. Your application provides limited space for an applicant’s entire presentation, so make each aspect of it count.

10. Plan Your Essay Structure before You Start Writing

Each paragraph should have a clear purpose and contribute to the overall message of your essay. By organizing your thoughts and ideas before writing, you can ensure that each paragraph serves a specific role in advancing your narrative. The writing process will also be easier and more pleasant!

11. Draft More Than the Word Count

It’s easier to cut down an essay than it is to add more content. Get all of your ideas out to your satisfaction. Then make sure the draft matches the structure. Then start cutting the draft down. It will feel so good!

12. Seek Feedback

Once you have a rough draft, seek feedback from a trusted reader who can provide constructive criticism. Look for someone who can offer unbiased insights and identify any gaps in your ideas. Avoid seeking feedback from family members or close friends who may have an emotional attachment to your work.

13. Take a Break

After receiving feedback, take a day or two to let it sink in. Gain some distance from your essay. When you revisit your draft with fresh eyes, you’ll be better equipped to assess whether it accurately conveys your intended message.

14. Revise, Revise, Revise

Revision is a crucial part of the writing process. Embrace the idea of demolishing and rebuilding your essay, making bold changes where necessary. Be willing to revise multiple times until you are satisfied with the final draft.

15. Trim to Word Count

Now would be the time to cut down your draft to fit the specified word count by removing unnecessary adjectives, prepositional phrases, and repetitive clauses. Consider condensing lengthy sections into concise phrases. Using contractions can also help reduce word count.

16. Read Your Essay Out Loud a Few Times before Submitting

Reading your essay out loud will help you catch common proofreading errors such as “the the” or a missing word. After you’re confident the essay is error free, it’s time to submit it. Remember, the Common Application essay is an opportunity for you to showcase your unique qualities and experiences. With careful planning, thoughtful reflection, and revision, you can create an impactful essay that resonates with admissions officers. Good luck!

Writing the Common Application Essay can be a complex and nuanced task, but your child does not have to navigate it alone.

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About the Author: Amy Morgenstern

Dr. Amy Morgenstern, affectionately known as Dr. M, is the founder and CEO of Blue Stars Admissions Consulting. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and an MFA in contemporary art. A former professor of philosophy, honors program associate director, and assistant to the director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Dr. M brings a wealth of academic and multicultural experience to her practice.

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